Nine months after two men reported being zip-tied to chairs in Sells while their captors threatened to dissolve them in acid, one of their captors was sentenced Friday to 3½ years in federal prison.
A Honduran man and a Mexican man told federal agents they were taken hostage in a cinderblock house in March while trying to cross the border illegally, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson. They said their captors zip-tied them to chairs, brandished a gun, and demanded payment for allowing them to continue on to Tucson.
Darnell Garcia, 32, was charged as one of their captors and pleaded guilty in August to one felony human smuggling charge. Under the plea agreement, he faced up to five years in prison and two hostage-taking charges were dismissed.
Among the threats told to the two men was that their captors would “disappear them in acid” if they didn’t get their money, Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson said as she went through sentencing documents at a hearing Friday.
Federal prosecutor Arturo Aguilar called the facts of the case “egregious” and accused Garcia of taking advantage of vulnerable people. Aguilar asked Jorgenson to sentence Garcia to between four and five years in prison.
Defense lawyer Natalie Prince cast doubt on the facts of the case, saying the Honduran man is applying for asylum and “embellished” the kidnapping story to help his asylum case.
Garcia apologized to the court and the victims. Prince asked Jorgenson to sentence Garcia to 27 months in prison.
Jorgenson called Garcia’s actions “really abhorrent” and sentenced him to 41 months in prison.
Before being held captive in Sells, the two men arrived at the Mexican side of the international border where “mafia” men said they had to pay a $500 crossing fee, according to an April 28 criminal complaint. They didn’t have enough money, so they escaped at night and crossed the border on their own.
When they arrived in Sells, they were forced into a car and taken to the cinderblock house with no electricity. Over the course of five days, their captors demanded they contact their families and gather $1,000 each. The family of the Honduran man couldn’t pay, but the family of the Mexican man agreed to pay $1,500 to free both of them.
The family sent three $500 money orders to a Western Union store in Tucson. After paying the ransom, the two men were taken to a bus stop and given $8 to board a shuttle to Tucson. One of their captors took photos of them and threatened to kill their families if they reported the kidnapping, according to court records.
The shuttle went through a Border Patrol checkpoint and the two men were taken into custody for crossing the border illegally, Aguilar said.
In a lineup, the two men also identified Melissa Marquez, 30, and Rosa Marquez Duran, 26, as two of their captors, according to the complaint.
Both women later pleaded guilty to felony human smuggling charges, but Marquez Duran denied knowing the men were held captive. She was sentenced Nov. 1 to three months in prison. Marquez is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 3 and faces 18 to 51 months in prison.